Drought-tolerant GM maize as a climate-smart measure in South Africa: Promises, perils and precaution

Authors Odile Lim Tung

ISSN: 2616-8499
Source: South African Journal of Environmental Law and Policy 2018, p. 119 – 154


Due to global warming, the likelihood of droughts may increase and more effective management approaches are necessary with regard to water in the medium to longer term. Africa as a drought-prone continent is heavily impacted with its smallholder farmers who rely mainly on rainfall for their crops. Maize, as the most widely grown staple crop in Africa, is particularly affected by frequent drought and drought-tolerant genetically modified (GM) crops are said to play an important role with respect to increased droughts on this continent. Current research on GM crops in South Africa and other African countries in research laboratories, in greenhouses or confined field trials, target drought-tolerant GM crops. This paper focuses on the first drought-tolerant GM maize (MON87460) authorised in South Africa in 2015 and discusses its relevance as a climate-smart measure for South Africa as the current biggest African GM crop producer. It looks into the promises of biotech companies regarding this drought-tolerant GM maize as well as its potential risks and draws lessons from the South African experience with GM crops for the rest of Africa.